18th March 2020 will always be a reminder to many of us Malaysians of how our lives took a 180-degree turn thanks to Covid-19. While it might be a joy to some as #WFH officially became a thing, there were a lot more struggles that most of us – especially business owners – had to face. While we were able to see tiny strands of hope along the way, we can’t deny the fact that many times, we were taken aback with the sudden change in decisions made by those in positions of power.

But today, 1st April 2022 will be another day that’ll go down in history as we start moving to an endemic phase. The reopening of borders will not only mean that we are free to travel, but it also means that we can finally be reunited with our loved ones who’ve been abroad in the past two years. Beyond that, it also means that business owners can finally make necessary decisions with the help of resources from neighbouring countries to do their best to make up for their losses. We had the chance to talk to three business owners from the beauty and health industry on their overall experience and what they’re looking forward to the most – and here’s what they had to say.

Kenny Yee, Founder of Makeup Miracle & Makeup artist/hairstylist

1. Can you share with us the backstory of your business?

“Makeup Miracle provides makeup and hairstyling courses for professionals who want to pursue a career in this industry. Our business isn’t only limited to classroom learning as we provide off-site training and career-building courses in this field too. Aside from those, we also conduct makeup and hairstyling services as well as workshops for corporate companies and events.”

2. How did the pandemic affect or change the concept of Makeup Miracle?

“One of the things that was affected the most was our sales as there were many on-site makeover courses and classes that had to be cancelled due to the restrictions and strict SOPs that were put in place. We had to move many of our classes online, but they were mainly theoretical concepts. I’m a firm believer that when it comes to skilled work, one needs to have hands-on experience, unless there’s a way with technology that would allow me to appear in front of my students like a 3D Matrix where I can teach them by practising their skills on another person! Jokes aside, it was definitely a challenge to do this at first, but thankfully, we’ve managed to overcome the problem.”

3. What were the biggest challenges that you faced during this period?

“NGL, it was mainly the uncertainty and doubt because I’m just a normal human being after all! With the restrictions that were put in place during the lockdowns and the gradual reopening of things, we had to be versatile in adjusting to things within our means and control, and quickly adapt to the changes. When it comes to events and makeover services that require prior booking specifically before the pandemic, we had to let these business opportunities go or cancel them, or get our clients to rebook on the next available slot. As a business owner, it was really tough, more so when it came to sustaining the business. We had to always worry on how to sustain ourselves for the sake of our staff and students who were depending on us.”

4. What are some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned in the past two years?

“The importance of humanity and the values of life. I started to understand and believe in the power of connection towards others in our lives. This pandemic also got me realising what I truly need in life. Be it with our families, friends, peers or partners, human connections are truly important.”

5. What are you most looking forward to as we transition to the endemic phase?

“To see people smile from the bottom of their hearts again.”

Nadia Valentina, Founder of Thrive Boutique Studio & Certified Fitness Trainer

1. Can you tell us more about Thrive and how the pandemic affected your business?

“Thrive opened its doors in 2018 and we’re located in Plaza Arkadia, Desa ParkCity, KL. We specialise in group classes, personal training and kids’ fitness, and we conduct corporate training as well. Among the types of classes that we have at Thrive are HIIT, Muay Thai, strength training and yoga. Our goal is to bring different communities together to create a healthy lifestyle.

“The pandemic affected our business quite a bit. Our income came from the monthly memberships and personal training sessions that we conduct, so when the MCO happened, everything was put on hold and we decided to move our classes online. While some of the members enjoyed it, some didn’t. At the same time, we also ended up renting out our equipment to members of the studio.

“The financial part was the main issue overall and it was hard for us to pay our rent as well as the salaries of our staff and trainings in the gym. We had to stop the membership for those who didn’t join us online for training too.”

2. What are some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned in the past two years?

“I’ve learnt that there are many ways for us to do things if we don’t limit ourselves to only one. Anything is possible if we want to make it happen. If you don’t try it, you’ll never know. Having a great team with different ideas helps too!”

3. What are you most looking forward to as we gradually enter the endemic phase?

“I hope to see more people coming to the gym again and I also want to educate people on the importance of working out. Our plan is to create awareness to the community too.”

Sereen Eng, Founder of POSH Nail Spa

1. Can you share with us more about your foray into the nail business?

“I’ve always been someone who believes in getting my nails done because it’s the only part of my body that I have full control over how it looks. There are bad hair days, days when I feel bloated and also some days in the month where a few pimples would appear due to the hormonal changes in my body that I have no control over. For the longest time, I’ve enjoyed being a nail salon customer until one day in 2008, I found out that the salon which I used to patronise was up for sale. I jumped at the opportunity almost immediately and here I am, in the nail industry, running three nail salons with a team of 20 nail technicians. Honestly, it wasn’t always a bed of roses. Over the years, it took me many trials and errors including the opening and closing of outlets until we rebranded ourselves to POSH (P – Passionate about making you look and feel good, O – Ownership in the work of our hands, S – Serving you is our joy and H – Honouring you for who you are and for who you made us to be) in 2010.”

2. How did the pandemic affect your business?

“Our services fell into the ‘non-essential’ group since the first MCO and we weren’t allowed to open for months. In our line of business, we’re paid for the work that we do with our hands, so when we’re not servicing customers, we had no income. #WFH was also a new experience for us compared to a salon environment where a lot of human touch was involved. During the pandemic, I took it upon myself to align my team members and together, we put effort into improving our competitive edge, which we often overlooked during busy times. As such, we began preparing for different trainings such as product knowledge, skill enhancements, learning new things such as making short videos, etc. We tried to shift the focus to improving our social media content and refine our customers’ experiences. The team members contributed in different ways to come up with new ideas for the business and better ways to serve our customers. I’m glad that there was a strong sense of unity among my team.”

3. What were the biggest challenges that you faced during this period?

“There were a lot of fixed costs such as rent, salaries and loans to pay every month. The biggest challenge was to stay afloat. I know many business owners who have depleted all their savings, and many were also forced to shut down. I’m thankful to have a pool of supportive customers that helped us during this time, not in the form of loans or donations but in the form of advance payments for services. We were also the first to introduce a gel removal rescue kit and a home pedicure kit during this time. The sales from these channels helped us to sustain for months without going into debt. It was challenging and heart-warming at the same time.”

4. What are some of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned in the past two years?

“The biggest lesson would be to save money; you don’t always need that extra pair of designer shoes or that branded handbag. What I really learned is that nothing is certain. You can be doing every right thing and still be affected, so always stay humble and adapt to changes. Most importantly, having a good relationship with your employees is very important. I can’t express enough how grateful I am to have my team fight along with me in this battle!”

5. What are you most looking forward to as we transition to the endemic phase?

“I’m looking forward to running my business in full capacity again. Even though we still have the SOPs in place, which we follow, I look forward to organising bridal and birthday nail parties at POSH again. I miss having events, shoots and connecting with people IRL. I hope the transition will be a smooth one as we enter this endemic phase.”

Featured image: Dayne Topkin/Unsplash
Compiled by: Yang Mei Ling

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